There is an annual report on philanthropy in the US called Giving USA. This article will highlight and clarify some of the information included and what it means to the local church.


First, according GUSA, philanthropy in the US increased during 2018 from $410B to $427B in total dollars but was actually in decline once inflation is accounted for. However, when one looks at the GUSA reports over the past 2 years, philanthropy is simply flat. Either way, the state of generosity in the US is not increasing overall.


Second, according to GUSA, the greatest source of generosity is still individuals. Individuals accounted for 70% (2017) and 68% (2018) of total philanthropic giving in the US.


Another interesting insight is the overall increase in giving from foundations to other charities as people begin to use family foundations as charitable vehicles. Interrelated is the fact that giving to foundations was greatly increased in 2017 but down in 2018 and yet those same foundations were the increased source of donations to other charities in 2018. This pattern of giving is indicative of persons giving to their family foundations in 2017 in order to take advantage of charitable tax deductions and then actually giving from the family foundation to intended charities in 2018.


Also interesting is the fact that religious charities (churches, temples, mosques, etc.) remain the greatest recipients of donations. In fact, no other charity type receives even half that amount. And yet a greatly concerning discovery is that religious giving was under 30% of all giving nationwide for the first time ever in 2018. A deeper dive reveals that religious giving has been on a constant decline, year after year, since the Reagan era when religious giving represented over 50% of all giving. GUSA also points out that this decline also mirrors declining church attendance.


While religious giving is in decline, GUSA indicates that charitable giving is greatly increasing in the areas of international need (world poor), the environment, and animal rights.


GUSA did not address the topics of donor fatigue or that younger donors are more oriented to loyally support a cause rather than being loyal to a specific organization. Along with this, there is an ever-increasing number of great causes providing the opportunity for donors to make a difference. And for these reasons, donors are showing patterns of fatigue and tiring of putting their resources in the same cause for more than 2-3 years, unless they have a compelling reason.


What does all this mean for the local church?  I’m glad you asked.

Here are a few takeaways:

  • People are still the greatest source of contributions; therefore, we should not be afraid to cultivate those relationships. Additionally, it is good to realize that for some people giving is a spiritual gift and it can be recognized just as one would recognize the ability to prophecy or sing.
  • High capacity donors frequently have the spiritual gift of giving. Use of a family trust can indicate this. We must give these high capacity donors an opportunity to give. If we don’t give them the opportunity to give significantly others will (ie. Hospitals, alma maters, private schools, social causes, other charities, etc.)
  • We must stop being fearful to talk about giving and begin being clearer on the value of giving to God’s Kingdom. Sound teaching should continue to include the Scriptural and personal benefits found in passages such as Malachi 4.
  • In order to address donor fatigue found in our culture, we must also provide donors with insight as to what their giving is accomplishing in their local community and around the world. It is recommended to avoid framing this insight/information in a way that it could be misperceived as an additional “ask” rather than as genuine gratitude.

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